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Hopeful Signs for Disneyland Project : * Progress Is Good News for a City at Critical Juncture

The proposed $3-billion expansion of Disneyland has held a great deal of promise for Orange County and the city of Anaheim, both struggling with the effects of recession. However, getting the deal done has proved a test of wills. The jury is still out, but recently there have been hopeful indications of progress.

The first is the willingness state and county transportation officials have shown to keep up their end of a bargain. The groundwork was paved for an important public-private partnership earlier when Gov. Pete Wilson pledged $60 million for transportation and infrastructure improvements to serve the expansion. Then late last month, California Department of Transportation and county transit officials agreed to commit $50 million for freeway ramps and the world’s largest parking garage in Anaheim, which will serve also as a transit center. Transit officials said that the $10-million reduction was arrived at through cost savings, which is itself auspicious.

The decision to go ahead with both the ramp improvements on the Santa Ana Freeway and the garage to serve the Disney expansion project represented a significant show of good faith on the part of the public sector. The department gave as its reason the need to make decisions now about the Santa Ana Freeway widening project, which has been underway for several years. That project has been progressing steadily, and transportation officials have calculated that even if the Disney project does not go forward, the improvements will be needed to serve the Anaheim area anyway.

Obviously, it would be far better to have a Disney project than to settle for the vague promise of improved transportation access in and out of what now exists. However, even if the decision was based partly on an assessment that the transportation money will be well spent no matter what happens, it clearly constituted a real commitment on the part of Caltrans and the Orange County Transportation Authority.

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From the very beginning of the plan to expand at Disneyland, the Walt Disney Co. has made much of the need for the government to contribute substantial amounts of money to make the project feasible. That is what is happening here. The government, eager to provide Anaheim and Orange County with a boost for economic development in tourism, is putting its money up front. This decision comes at a time when other good transportation causes are going begging, and the governor’s funding commitment to the Disney Westcot project has been criticized.

This willingness to pitch in was a clear response to Disney’s longtime concern that it needs help from the state, Anaheim and OCTA for the project to “pencil out.” The decision on the projects ought to serve as meaningful groundwork for an eventual development agreement between Disney and the city of Anaheim.

For its part, Disney has been signaling its concern with the viability of the area by embarking on a campaign to address the sources and symptoms of crime in Anaheim’s worst neighborhoods.

The expansion itself would go a long way toward improving some of the blighted commercial areas in the city. And as Anaheim police are trying to deal with gang and drug problems, Disney is getting involved in youth hockey and the promotion of job training and educational opportunities with local school districts.

Anaheim is at a critical juncture. It either can stand still or move forward. These various commitments are encouraging signs of progress.


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